Call them what you will, massively multiplayer online role playing games, virtual worlds or video games. Regardless of their label, these online environments in which users socialize or play games are now in the mainstream. With popularity and subscribership on the rise, virtual worlds, like World of Warcraft, EverQuest, There and Second Life, are big business. A growing audience and expanding revenue stream also mean that virtual worlds find themselves increasingly the subject of litigation. Indeed, some law firms have developed specialized practice groups to address this new and unique medium and the range of issues it presents. Alex Pham, “These Lawyers Got (Video) Game,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 3, 2008.
It is not surprising that copyright and trademark issues arise frequently in virtual worlds, given the fact that they are products of copyrightable software code and thus by their very nature implicate intellectual property analysis. Additionally, MMORPGs, such as Second Life and WoW, have developed marketplaces for the sale and barter of virtual goods for real money or virtual money that may later be converted to real money. As in any marketplace, there is also a need to identify the source of virtual goods, especially in virtual worlds such as Second Life, which allows its users to generate their own virtual content and retain intellectual property rights in the content they create. “Second Life Residents To Own Digital Creations,” Nov. 14, 2003; Second Life Terms of Service §3.2. Some entrepreneurs in Second Life have applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for registration of their avatars (the user-created character representation of the virtual world participant in the virtual environment) and other marks for their virtual businesses.
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